As Clara says at the tail end of “Time Heist,” bank robberies are not the Doctor’s thing and neither is it the show’s thing. This week’s episode is a fast-paced caper that has a lot of good execution but a rather obvious result, which doesn’t hurt the final product, but it does let some steam out of a well-oiled engine.
A bank heist in Doctor Who is a brilliant idea and it’s one that I am surprised hasn’t been explored before. Yet, with current visual effects and production its best that something like “Time Heist” happened now. The trouble with such a great idea is it comes straight from the mind of a rather controversial writer in the show’s run. Stephen Thompson, who is also the third writer for Sherlock, hasn’t had the best track record with “Curse of the Black Spot” and “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” (I like it more than others) splitting most fans. For the second and not last time this season Steven Moffat is taking quality control seriously by being a co-writer and although I’m not sure what he has contributed here — “Time Heist” feels like a tighter ship than usual especially for Thompson.
It’s nice to see The Doctor taking charge of the situation, but it feels so out of place considering the proceeding four weeks of shows. Clara has been firmly in charge but, this week The Doctor is in command of a rather tricky situation involving one of the most dangerous and guarded banks in the universe. Clara is basically relegated to the traditional companion of asking questions and doing as told which will probably delight some fans but it’s not the wisest idea considering the emphasis on Clara’s importance.
The key here is The Doctor and his small band “crooks” are robbing a bank to find out why they are robbing a bank. It’s not until the very end via a flashback do they realize why they’re there. Part of the fun this week is you are completely oblivious to what is happening but those last ten minutes, when you start to breathe, you realize the unfortunately predictable finale. The idea of being taken back in time to a moment when the bank is at its most vulnerable is part of the fun of having a show centered round time travel and only something that a show like Doctor Who could execute properly. Like last week, Douglas McKinnon is behind the camera delivering outstanding visuals with lighting being a key factor here and quick cut shots to emphasize the manic nature of the robbery.
However, our supporting players only go so far and that is a shame because there is nothing but potential in this script. Unless you are a devout viewer of British television, Keeley Hawes guest starring in this episode really presents nothing of interest despite all the hype of her appearance garnered. But, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t try to give it her all. On the other side The Teller, a classic rubber monster, is quite intriguing being a creature that can detect guilt. It works effectively when it is being used for its antagonist purpose but it provides a sympathetic tone when presented as a creature of connection with the audience. This week’s final moments mimic greatly the groan-worthy nature of the final moments of last year’s best episode “Hide.” It all feels a bit too predictable and the final twist almost makes it seem like the writers hit a brick wall before deciding to wrap it up as quickly as possible.
The thing about “Time Heist” is, while its being fun and at times very clever with its timey wimey premise, is it’s a standalone adventure. By no means is there any connection to the rest of this season much like “Robot of Sherwood” a few weeks back. With continuity being stressed so much in this show it’s a good thing and a bad thing. We have yet to figure out the big linking narrative, although Missy no doubt has something to do with that, although we haven’t seen her in three weeks. However, Doctor Who has always tended to be a show that works well on its feet and an episode like this is fine for those purposes.
I severely doubt “Time Heist” will be on anyone’s favorite list but it is far and away better episode than was probably anticipated. At this point it feels like Series 8 of Doctor Who has settled on a balance of light and dark — but for how long? The coming weeks, from what I have read, seem to stress some really expected and dark corridors which makes a fun, action adventure like this feel out of place and that is the most frustrating part with this season. Right now Doctor Who looks like it has an established tone but from week to week it does tend to feel like it doesn’t know what it wants to do. Stressing a darker Doctor can’t be pulled off when you have to inject some fun for the younger audiences and a reminder of the Doctor’s charm and wit. This is why “Time Heist” will probably not be a big footnote this season despite having a clever idea with the right dose of timey wimey and excitement.
Jason Stives is the resident Anglophile and Pop-Break representative for BBC America conducting weekly reviews of Doctor Who and Orphan Black. He is currently a contributing writer for PropertyofZack.com and a freelance creative consultant for fundraising and marketing campaigns in New Jersey’s various art communities. He is a graduate of Rutgers University’s class of 2010 with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies. When he isn’t attending concerts or writing the great American novel he moonlights as lounge crooner J.M Heavyhart turning the works of Dokken and Dio into Sinatra-esque standards (or at least he would like to be). Follow his constant retweets and occasionally witty banter on Twitter at @jaystives.